OK, so you don’t know a box wine from a baby brunello and that big dinner with colleagues/clients/current object of obsession is just a day away. You want to be dining and wining but will likely be dining and whining … especially if all you can say to the waiter is, “Got any wine coolers?”
You could sign up for Wine Appreciation 101, but frankly, who has the time? Enter your friend, The Faker, who called on Tribune wine critic Bill Daley for his cheat sheet on pro-style ordering. Follow his script, look like you know your way around a pinot. And whatever you do, don’t be afraid to fake it.
Order a “weird” grape variety. For example, Daley says, the pros love dry riesling, but most people won’t go near it. Too sweet, they fear. Yet they drink fruity cocktails. Go figure. Of course, you need to have an idea about how that “weird” wine tastes with food beforehand. A great simple-to-use Web site for food and wine pairings is Nat Decants (natdecants.com) by wine writer Natalie MacLean.
Type in the wine (“riesling”) and you get a briefing on how the wine tastes and what foods she recommends (Thai dishes, California-style pizza, for example). Another click and you’ll have specific wine bottles you can ask for when ordering. (Don’t worry if the restaurant is out; ask for something similar in flavor — and price.)
Spend a little. Never order the two cheapest wines on the list. Savvy wine drinkers know that the second-lowest-priced bottle is generally the highest markup. To hedge your bets, steer clear of the bargain basement and choose from the midpriced selections.
Hold the glass of wine up to the light before accepting the bottle. Study it, frown, say “hmmmm.” No “amateur” looks at what they’re drinking, Daley says. Or, if you want to be less show-offy, hold the glass out at an angle over a white plate or tablecloth. Replicate the above expression. All this has a serious side — a brownish tinge means the wine is too old.
Smell the wine. Seriously. Give the glass a little spin so the wine swirls up the side of the glass, then stick your nose in and breathe deeply. Actually, this (like the light test above) is a serious component to evaluating a wine. A good aroma gives you pleasure while offering an indication of how the wine will taste. But if you don’t really know what you’re smelling, it’s the gesture that counts.